With the ever-growing presence and dependence on smartphones in today’s society, there has been no shortage of articles correlating this trend with a slow and painful death for the point-and-shoot camera.  True, that trends within the digital camera market show a shrinking presence, but it is within this overall decline developments are occurring that strive to maintain dedicated cameras’ relevance.  Despite the downward slope of digital camera placements in retail, the compact segment specifically is gaining placements based on several key factors, including their powerful zoom lenses and advanced photographic capabilities.  These differentiators over smartphones are contributing to an increase in the volume of compact cameras shown on retailers’ shelves, which is reversing the ultra-compact segment’s dominance in the channel, and the previous scarcity of these models.

In the past, retailers happily filled their shelves with a wide-array of ultra-compact digital camera models with the goal of providing slim and easy to use photo-taking options for everyone.  Camera manufacturers themselves could historically count on huge sales numbers from this type of camera because people needed to capture pictures, and what better way than something that was small and non-threatening.  An ultra-compact camera was the primary way that most people, regardless if they were passionate about photography or not, would snap photos, and camera purchases came largely from necessity rather than excitement.  It is these very shoppers that are now reaching to their smartphones rather than their digital cameras, and the ultra-compact segment is suffering the most, but interestingly compact is growing.

Realizing that stocking their shelves full of ultra-compact models is not as exciting as it used to be, retailers are now actively adding more compact cameras, and showing a preference toward showcasing attractive features, over the risk of presenting their larger form factor to shoppers.  This year, the compact segment surpassed ultra-compact cameras’ placements in retail, reversing the latter segment’s historical dominance in the channel.  Ever since the first digital cameras hit the market, major strides have been made to make them smaller as to be pocket-friendly.  With many now using smartphones to handle snapshots, cameras again are getting larger, although this time it is to house impressive features that cannot yet be found within the form factor of a phone.

Compact Superzoom

Enter zoom.  The telephoto reach of dedicated digital cameras cannot yet be matched by smartphones, and is therefore a very attractive value for shoppers.  Compact cameras now boast impressive zoom reaches up to 24x, and within bodies that are little more than an inch thick.  When compared to professional DSLRs, the leaders of the compact segment provide a reach as powerful as a 600mm telephoto lens, making them extremely versatile solutions for families and even the most avid world travelers.  Retailers recognize zoom’s importance, and since April 2011, the retail placements of cameras with 10x or greater lenses increased from 113 to 179, representing a 58% gain.  Today, close to 40% of Best Buy’s current fixed-lens camera assortment contain zoom lenses stronger than 10x, which is not even as impressive as Walmart’s 45%, or Target 48%.  The benefits of having a strong zooming compact camera has earned them a place alongside smartphones within our pockets, and even the most novice consumers can easily enjoy the added picture possibilities.  While attractive zoom is one way that dedicated cameras are positioned to maintain casual shoppers’ interest, those who fall into a more advanced rung of the photography market are being courted by a different style of compact.

Enthusiast Compact

Cue the rise of the enthusiast compact segment.  With smartphones present to handle the basic snapshotting, enthusiast compacts target the more advanced consumer with a desire for performance and who is left underwhelmed by the capabilities of converged devices.  The characteristics of an enthusiast compact center around a rich variety of manual control, and contain elements such as bright aperture optics, large-format image sensors, and retro-inspired appearances.  Within this past year, Sony broke new ground by outfitting its $2,799 Cyber-shot RX1 with a full-frame image sensor and Nikon introduced the market to its first DX-format (APS-C) fixed lens camera, the $1,099 CoolPix A that arrived to Best Buy this March as the chain’s most expensive compact camera ever offered.  While this style of camera is inherently niche in nature, an awareness of the format is rising.  Interestingly, smartphones may be to blame, with filters and a la cart effects that often serve as an introduction to artistic photography for many youth.

Since April 2011, placements of enthusiast compacts climbed from 15 to 29 within gap intelligence’s retail panel, for a dramatic growth of 93%.  Many of these cameras carry large price tags and come from product lines that have experienced sparse historical availability in the channel do to their advanced nature.  Increasingly eager for new ways to make sales, retailers are using freed-up shelf space from basic ultra-compacts to stock enthusiast-targeted cameras.

However, this is not always a success for everyone.  Walmart, ever the reactionary retailer, wanted to test its luck in selling enthusiast cameras, and stocked its shelf last Spring with Nikon’s $499 CoolPix P7100 as its first attempt.  Nine months later, that camera dramatically fell to just $149 as the retailer eventually realized that it was just taking up space and not popular among its shoppers.  Why would it be?  Walmart’s fact tag called attention to unattractive elements such as the model’s 10-megapixel image sensor (although oversized and performance-rich) and 7.1x zoom (although equipped with f2.8 aperture), when shoppers could easily see a 16-megapixel stronger-zooming model only inches away, and for much less money.


Shoppers didn’t get it, they were not ready.  Time is needed, and just like with megapixels, education is key.  While it is safe to assume that the average consumer today now knows the relationship between megapixel and output size, not the quality of the picture, how many years did this take?  A similar level of patience is needed to translate the features of enthusiast compacts, which on paper, challenge many shoppers to find a justification for cost.  Although Walmart perhaps failed at providing its shoppers reason to buy its first enthusiast offering, other chains are actively testing the waters of compact camera diversification, and it is this experimentation that is aiding the growth of the compact segment.